General Description

The Prof Schertler’s group focuses on the structural biology of membrane proteins, particularly G protein coupled receptors. They use membrane protein crystallisation and X-ray diffraction. We are leading in the development of stabilized receptors trapping different states for structure determination. Pedrini’s group focuses on novel methods and algorithms for spectroscopic and scattering experiments at XFELs. They work closely with SwissFEL laser and machine scientists.

Role and Commitment of key persons (including supervisors)

Gebhard Schertler, PhD, Professor. Structural biology methods.
Dmitry Veprintsev, PhD, Senior Scientist. Membrane protein production, purification and biophysical analysis. Ching Ju Tsai, PhD, postdoc. Membrane protein production, purification and crystallisation.
Bill Pedrini, PhD. Responsible, diffract-&-destroy ptychography & cross-correlation scattering.
Bruce Patterson, PhD, professor. Scientific coordinator of the SwissFEL project, PI for terahertz pump-source application development.
Valerie Panneels, PhD, Senior Scientist. Lab Manager.
Rafael Abela, PhD. Project leader for SwissFEL photonics.

Key Research Facilities and Infrastructure and Equipment

Protein production and expression, random and site selected mutagenesis, protein immobilization on activated silicon surfaces. Facilities comprise a fully equipped molecular biology lab, a pilot scale purification station, AFM and SEM microscopy. Synchrotron radiation and X-ray free electron laser science and technology including X-ray beamline optics, experimental chambers and detectors. Access to the Swiss Light Source coherent X-ray scattering beamline (CSAXS) and 3 protein crystallography beamlines. In preparation for user operation of the SwissFEL hard X-ray laser in 2016, a 250 MeV test injector accelerator has been built and will be used for test experiments for XFEL seeding.

PhD supervisor: Prof. Gebhard Schertler

SO = Scientific Objectives;
TO = Training Objectives.

SO1: Produce & characterise nanocrystals of bovine rhodopsin. Perform diffraction studies using microfocus beams and XFEL radiation.
SO2: Induce photoisomerization process in rhodopsin nanocrystals using a femtosecond pump laser & characterize early photoproducts with an XFEL.

TO1: Training in membrane protein biochemistry, purification & crystallisation.
TO2: Training in the use of fast lasers & time-resolved X-ray diffraction.
TO3: Biophysical characterisation & structure determination of membrane proteins.

Preparing nanocrystals of bovine rhodopsin in large quantities. The ESR will participate in biophysical characterisation of the nano-crystals with nanofocus beamline, time-resolved WAXS and diffraction studies at synchrotron radiation sources and at XFELs. The ESR will learn to use lasers to trigger isomerization reactions and analyse the reaction products by a time-resolved optical spectroscopy.

Involvement with other tasks: Assist others with the development of tools for membrane protein crystallisation and nano-crystallisation, biophysical characterisation and with diffraction data analysis from nano-crystals.

Local Training: Local Training: This ESR will be enrolled as a PhD student at the ETH Zurich, offering a range of courses in English including presentation, interview, supervision skills, and scientific ethics.

Prof. Gebhard Schertler, nanocrystals, bovine rhodopsin, diffraction, microfocus beams, XFEL radiation, photoisomerization, rhodopsin nanocrystals, femtosecond pump laser & characterize early photoproducts with an XFEL.  TO1: Training in membrane protein biochemistry, purification, crystallisation, fast lasers, time-resolved X-ray diffraction, Biophysical characterisation, membrane proteins, rhodopsin, Niranjan Varma

Niranjan Varma

Bachelors degree in biotechnology (engineering) from SRM University, Chennai, India
Masters studies in Cancer Cell and Molecular Biology (MSc) from the University of Leicester, UK.

Research projects
MSc project on the characterisation of potential HDAC inhibitors and identification of novel interactions within the Nucleosome Remodelling and histone Deacetylase Complex (MSc dissertation; University of Leicester).